A major step for labor in the United States

Oct 18, 2011

When our new web site launches in late fall of this year, along with the digital library, included will be articles discussing the many people, places and events that affected Theodore Roosevelt and his era. These articles will help browsers, students, and educators get a quick handle on the facts before conducting their own research or answering questions they come across while researching. We will constantly be adding new articles to the web site over time and hope these will be useful and interesting to all of our visitors. For a sneak peek at what these will look like, see the entry on the 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike below:

The Anthracite Coal Strike (May-October 1902) began after mine operators refused to meet with representatives of the United Mine Workers of America. Anthracite—or hard coal—was solid and rich in carbon, ideal for industrial and domestic use. The strike began in eastern Pennsylvania, where almost all anthracite coal was mined at the time, on May 12, 1902, after the railroad companies which owned the mines refused to meet with representatives of the union.

Cartoon from Puck on Coal Strike

Illustration shows John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America, grasping an angry bull labeled "Coal Operators' Combine" by the horns. The cartoonist is suggesting that the bull might get the better of him. Puck, v. 52, no. 1337. From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs division.

With the conflict unresolved, Henry Cabot Lodge, a senior Republican and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, warned the president of the potentially disastrous consequences for the party if the anthracite strike dragged into November, when elections were to be held.  Heeding Lodge’s advice, Roosevelt worked behind the scenes to gather information and propose ways to settle the strike.  In Washington on October 3, 1902, he met with presidents of the mine-owning railroads and union leaders.

Coal Strike Commission 1902

At that meeting the union president, John Mitchell, outlined the union’s case while the railroad bosses asserted the impossibility of compromise.  The conference disbanded without resolving the crisis and Roosevelt formed a commission to investigate the strike.  Secretary of War Elihu Root and banker J. P. Morgan convinced railroad leaders to abide by the findings of the presidentially appointed commission.  The union also accepted the commission and, on October 20, voted to end the anthracite strike.

The anthracite-coal commission recommended in March 1903 a ten-percent pay increase for miners (one-half of their demand), reducing the working day from ten to nine hours, and other concessions.  By negotiating with organized labor Roosevelt championed a new approach to relations between capital and labor, often cited as an example of his Square Deal.

Image: Anthracite Coal Strike Commission appointed 1902 by President Roosevelt. From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs division.

Posted by Krystal Thomas on Oct 18, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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